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Why are Truck Crash Fatalities Elevated

07/07/2023 21:56

There has been a concerning trend observed in the frequency of fatal traffic accidents involving large trucks, particularly when compared to pre-pandemic figures.

Trucks play a pivotal role in our economy, transporting goods and materials across vast distances.

However, the sheer size and vehicle weight rating of these vehicles can also make them potential hazards on the road. Unfortunately, truck crash fatalities have been consistently elevated over the years, raising concerns about the safety of both truck drivers and other motorists sharing the roadways. Of course, trucking companies are also alarmed. 

Understanding why these fatalities due to truck collisions are persistently high is crucial for developing effective strategies to mitigate risks and save lives.

This article aims to delve into some of the key major factors contributing to these alarming fatal truck accident trends and explore potential solutions that could help curb truck crash fatalities.

FMCSA Summary on Truck Accidents | Percent Increase

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Crash Statistics Summary, which draws from data obtained through the Motor Carrier Management Information System, has revealed that in the year 2019, there were 5,082 reported deaths as a result of crashes involving large trucks throughout the country. This number experienced a slight reduction in 2020, with 4,988 fatalities recorded.

However, the year 2021 saw a troubling spike, with 5,701 fatal crashes reported. While there was a subsequent decrease in 2022 to 5,230 fatalities, this still represents an increase of 3%, or 148 more deaths, compared to the pre-pandemic numbers of 2019.

Truck Fatalities Data | Truck Crash Causation Study by a Trucking Insurance 

During Monday's edition of WHAT THE TRUCK?!?, Brian Runnels, the Vice President of Safety at Reliance Partners, a trucking insurance brokerage that offers safety consulting services, joined Dooner to explore possible factors contributing to the growing prevalence of fatal crashes.

Runnels noted that aggressive driving has become more commonplace on the road, which he attributes to an increase in vehicle traffic following the easing of COVID-related restrictions.

According to a projection by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which encompasses all traffic on the roads, fatal accidents resulting to fatal injuries, and truck crash deaths have increased in 23 states while decreasing in 27 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Further Traffic Truck Fatalities Reports

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that traffic fatalities in the United States amounted to 42,795 in the previous year, a number that falls just shy of the 42,939 total recorded in 2021. Despite this, the figures remain significantly higher than those from 2020 (38,824) and 2019 (36,355).

The recent shift in freight volume centralization, as observed by industry experts like Runnels, could very well be a contributing factor to this concerning trend. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has also noted a shift towards shorter trips in the past decade, a pattern that was highlighted in its 2022 report.

The Density of Trucks in Congested Areas has Increased Substantially

According to Runnels, the density of trucks in congested areas has increased substantially, with longer distances being covered in such areas than ever before.

He notes that distribution centers and manufacturing facilities have been popping up all around major cities, which has led to a shift from long-haul freight to more regional operations.

This shift has necessitated a change in driver operations, with more emphasis being placed on hitting docks to unload and reload, consequently resulting in increased pressure to cover more miles. These factors have contributed to a rise in crashes and fatalities, painting a concerning picture for the industry.

According to Runnels, the current pay structure in the trucking industry may be a contributing factor to potentially hazardous driving practices in certain scenarios.

Specifically, a significant number of truck drivers are compensated on a per-mile basis, but recent data indicate a decline in the average number of truck miles driven per truck. Reports from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) demonstrate a drop from 91,506 miles in 2019 to 79,808 miles in 2021, with a further decrease to 78,863 miles in 2022.

According to Runnels, this trend of declining mileage could be attributed to the challenges faced by drivers in securing adequate work. With pay rates determined by distance traveled, drivers, dispatchers, and companies alike are under pressure to generate revenue from trucks.

This pressure to perform may result in drivers pushing themselves to their limits in order to meet targets. Runnels believes that such a scenario may create an unsafe environment for all involved parties.

Moreover, carriers can significantly enhance safety by prioritizing driver training and guidance. The implementation of defensive driving techniques, which are readily available within the trucking community, can effectively prevent accidents.

With that, imparting knowledge regarding the safety technologies present in the trucks is of utmost importance. Runnels emphasizes that drivers must comprehend the functioning and utilization of such technologies to make them effective.

Finally, he advises drivers to exercise prudence during challenging situations on the road and make the right decisions.

Conclusion: Addressing the Root Causes of Truck Crash-Related Fatalities For Safer Roads

Truck crash fatalities continue to be a significant concern on our roadways, with numerous factors contributing to this alarming trend.

One of the primary reasons for elevated truck crash fatalities is driver fatigue. Commercial truck drivers often face demanding schedules, leading to long hours behind the wheel and inadequate rest periods. This exhaustion can impair their judgment, reaction times, and overall performance, increasing the likelihood of accidents. More painful injuries can also be a result if drivers are not physically well in case of accidents occurring. 

Another factor that contributes to high truck crash fatalities is distracted driving. In today's digital age, distractions are more prevalent than ever before. Truck drivers may be tempted to use their phones or engage in other distracting activities while driving, diverting their attention from the road and increasing the risk of collisions. Imagine that in a glimpse where there are blind spots on the road, a quick glance over the phone could be fatal. These are considered triggering dangerous situations.

Additionally, equipment failure, tire failure, mechanical failures, or poor maintenance practices can also lead to fatal truck crashes. Defective brakes or tires can cause a loss of control on rural roads or slippery roads, regardless of highway conditions, making it difficult for drivers to react quickly in emergency situations. Preventive measures are a must.

Overall, addressing these root causes is crucial for ensuring safer roads and reducing truck crash-related fatalities for general road users. By implementing stricter regulations on driver working hours and mandating sufficient rest periods, we can combat driver fatigue and improve alertness on the roads.

Furthermore, regardless of the types of accident that may occur, enforcing strict penalties for distracted driving among commercial vehicle operators can deter them from engaging in these risky behaviors while behind the wheel. Lack of priority in medical care and medical attention is usually displayed by inexperienced drivers. 

Moreover, regular inspections and maintenance checks should be mandatory for all commercial trucks to prevent mechanical failures that could result in catastrophic accidents. This is regardless if you are an experienced driver or not.

Need help with DOT and FMCSA Compliance or just simply want to stay updated with the latest trends in the trucking industry? Feel free to reach out to us at Labworks USA.

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